By Iola Goulton
Many bookshops have a section called ‘Sci-fi/Fantasy’ or similar, which annoys writers because they see the genres as being quite separate—and they are. What these novels do have in common is the requirement for world-building: the ability of the author to create a credible imaginary world in which the story takes place. This includes developing the physical characteristics of the world (e.g. geography and ecology) as well as the history, culture and religion of the different people groups in the story.
The world might be a long time ago on a faraway planet (Star Wars), it might be a futuristic version of Earth (Star Trek), it might be post-apocalyptic Earth (The Hunger Games) or it might be contemporary Earth but featuring a sub-culture hidden from the rest of us (Harry Potter or Twilight). Each of these require a different type and level of worldbuilding.
This genre isn’t heavily represented in Christian fiction, although publishers like Enclave Publishing and Splashdown Books specialise in what is generally referred to as speculative or visionary fiction. Mainstream publishers such as Thomas Nelson and Wombat Books are producing some titles in this area, suggesting it is a growing market.
There’s not a lot of Sci-fi the Christian market—Kathy Tyers is the only author I know who specialises in this genre, although Christian authors such as CS Lewis and Lynne Stringer write general market sci-fi from a Christian world view.
FantasyFantasy usually has an Earth-like setting. Where a science fiction novel depends on science and technology, a fantasy world often incorporates magical elements (e.g. Lord of the Rings), or mythical creatures (e.g. dwarves, elves and dragons). Technological advancement is often similar to medieval Europe. There are a lot of authors writing Christian fantasy, many of which feature an allegorical romance representing Christ’s love for the church.
ParanormalStories featuring vampires, werewolves and other shapeshifters, mermaids, zombies, witches, wizards, or humans with psychic abilities. Paranormal novels tend to be contemporary, and paranormal romance is especially popular. The author needs to define the ‘rules’ of their paranormal society and ensure that characters obey these rules (or face the consequences). There’s probably a little less world-building in a paranormal novel than other genres discussed here, because there are a number of long-standing genre conventions (Stephenie Meyer faced a lot of criticism for not abiding by those conventions with her sparkly vampires).
Paranormal romance (PNR) has been rising in popularity in the general market over the last decade, but predominantly in the general market. It doesn’t usually fit with a Christian worldview. The only examples of PNR I’ve seen in the Christian market are novels like The Widow of Saunders Creek by Tracey Bateman (traditionally-published speculative fiction with a romantic element), Barbara Ellen Brink’s self-published Amish Vampire series (which I haven’t read, so can’t really comment on their Christian element) and the new Amish Vampires in Space from Marcher Lord Press (I admit. I'm tempted to buy this to see how it works).
DystopianStories set on some alternate version of a future Earth. Classic examples include The War of the Worlds, The Day of the Triffids, the Tripods trilogy by John Christopher, and The Running Man by Richard Bachmann (better known as Stephen King). They tend to have an adventure plot, often centred on a chase or survival, and are particularly popular in Young Adult fiction (e.g. The Hunger Games trilogy by Suzanne Collins). Christian authors writing for this market include Jerel Law (Son of Angels) and Krista McGee (Anomaly).
Time TravelFeatures the hero, heroine or both travelling back or forward in time, having to adjust to a new way of living. Time travel romance was popularised in the general market by novels such as Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander series, and Christian authors to have used this plot device include Tamara Leigh and Meredith Resce.
Do you write fiction that requires some level of worldbuilding? How do you describe what you write? What do you feel are the essential ingredients in a novel of this type?
I am a freelance editor specialising in Christian fiction, and you can find out more about my services at my website, or follow me on Facebook, Twitter or Pinterest. I love reading, and read and review around 150 Christian books each year on my blog.